How To Make The Most Of Your Christmas 2016 In Rome With Kids
Christmas is a great time to visit Rome with kids.
Of course, Christmas being Christmas, it is always going to be magical for children. But during this period, you’ll have a lot less tourists roaming the streets of the Italian capital city, and although it can get a bit chilly, you won’t have the oppressing summer heat to deal with.
The Christmas lights in Rome’s streets and shop windows are spectacular, and there’s a great festive atmosphere that makes it a great time for a family vacation.
In Italy, the Christmas period starts on December 8th, the day of the Immaculate Conception and ends on January 6th, the day of the Epiphany. That’s actually the day when the Italians exchange gifts, rather than on the 24th at night or on the 25th in the morning.
But a question always pops to mind every time Christmas day nears: Is everything closed on that day or are there some things we can do with children?
Generally, all the major sites and museums are open during the Christmas period, by tend to close on Christmas day, December 25th. The Vatican though is closed on all religious holidays: the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8), Christmas Day (Dec 25), New Year’s Day (Jan 1) and the Epiphany (Jan 6) as well as every Sunday.
Concerning shops, most of them tend to close on Christmas day. Unlike a lot of shops in big European cities where international brands rule de sector, Rome’s streets are full of small, family run shops. These people want to spend Christmas with their families, not with their clients!
As for restaurants, you might want to check if the restaurant you have planned to go to will open on Christmas Eve and Christmas day and make reservations well in advance!
For those of you who want to experience the religious side of Christmas, the Vatican’s Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is celebrated at … 10PM. If you contact the Vatican well in advance, you can get an invitation to see the mass inside Saint Peter’s Basilica (the invitation will be sent by regular mail or fax, but they don’t use email). Don’t worry if you can’t be inside the basilica: you can always join a lot of other devoted Catholics or curious tourists on Saint Peter’s Square, where the ceremony is transmitted.
Another famous ceremony involving the Pope takes place on December 8 at the Spanish Steps.
From the best Christmas markets to great family-friendly ice skating rinks, here is how to make the most of your Christmas in Rome with kids:
1. What are the best family-friendly Christmas markets in Rome?
There are a few Christmas Markets in Rome, but they are not as widespread as in Paris or London. As a matter of fact, there is only one real Christmas Market in the center of Rome, the other smaller ones being a few miles away from the city center.
Piazza Navona Christmas Market
The Christmas market on Piazza Navona is by far the biggest and best Christmas market in the center of Rome. It is also one of the oldest as it has been going on every year for over 100 years, making it a place where the Christmas spirit thrives.
Here, you will find all kinds of things such as Christmas decorations, gifts, handicrafts and food. Your children will love the numerous street performers, and the many sweets stalls!
- When: From December 1, 2016 to January 6, 2017, from 10AM to 01AM every day
- Address: Piazza Navona
So, if it’s not the Christmas markets, then what is the traditional Italian “thing” for Christmas?
That “thing” is Il Presepe, or in other words, the Nativity scene.
2. Where can you find the most beautiful Nativity scenes in Rome?
Between the Immaculate Conception and the Epiphany, you will find Nativity scenes almost everywhere in Rome. In churches of course, but also shops, restaurants and private homes.
A lot of these Nativity scenes are not just small “cheap” cardboard creations, but rather very elaborate artistic creations, with life-size figures, sometimes even representing a whole village, with sophisticated animations, lights and water installations!
Oh, and just in case you are wondering: if you don’t see baby Jesus in his manger before December 25th, it’s not because something is wrong. It’s totally normal: after all, the Holy Child was born on Christmas day, not before!
Here is a list of the best and most popular Nativity scenes in Rome that you should visit when traveling with kids during the Christmas period.
St. Peter’s Nativity Scene
Located on St Peter’s Square of the Vatican, the St. Peter’s Nativity Scene is probably the most famous and most visited Presepe in Rome. Well, since it is the highest Catholic authority, it’s not surprising to see this huge nativity scene with life-size figures in front of the Pope’s palace!
If you decide to attend the Midnight Mass on Saint Peter’s Square (at 10PM), make sure you visit this beautiful Nativity scene.
Spanish Steps Nativity Scene
Another very popular Presepe is the one found at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. Unlike a lot of Nativity scenes which are set in a medieval like village, this one is set in what could be one of Rome’s old neighborhoods, such as Trastevere. The figures may not be life-size, but the whole scene is quite amazing in size and workmanship!
International Museum of Nativity
If you want to visit the oldest Nativity scene, with marble figurines dating back to the 13th century, head out to the International Museum of Nativity (Museo Internazionale del Presepio). In this original museum, you will also find over 3,000 pieces coming from all parts of Italy and the world.
- Address: Via Tor de’ Conti 23
- Visiting hours: From December 24 to January 6 from 4PM to 8PM every day except Sunday from 10AM to 1PM and from 4PM to 8PM
- Entrance fee: Free
Other popular Nativity scenes:
Although less well-known as the 2 previous ones, the Nativity scenes on Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona (amidst the Christmas market, where you’ll find all the elements to create your own nativity scene!) and Santa Maria Maggiore Church are well worth a look if you are in the neighborhood.
3. Where are the most beautiful Christmas street decorations in Rome?
Christmas without all the street lights and decorations would not be Christmas!
There are many places to see very nice illuminations and decorations in the streets of Rome, be it the small pedestrian streets of the city center or its bigger shopping arteries.
Here is a list of the places where you will find nice Christmas lights and decorations, both in the streets and in the stores of the area.
Giving a full description of these areas would be useless, so just take our word for it and head out there with your children!
Via dei Coronari
Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina
Colosseum Xmas Tree
Via dei Baullari
Via del Corso
Via dei Condotti
4. Where can I do the best Christmas shopping in Rome?
As mentioned earlier in this article, Rome is all about its family-run boutiques in the city center. You will, of course, find the classic international brands, but you won’t get the real kick out of going shopping in Rome if you go for Zara, H&M or Guess.
During the Christmas period, the shops are open, except on Christmas day and New Year’s day. Both on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, some shops will close earlier.
Via del Condotti area
This area is really the heart of luxury shopping in Rome. On Via del Condotti, at the foot of the Spanish Steps, you will find all the most prestigious Italian and international luxury brands such as Gucci, Bulgari, Cartier, Hermès and Salvatore Ferragamo.
One of the only real department stores in the center of Rome is called La Rinascente. It is located in the heart of the Eternal City, not far away from Piazza di Spagna, La Rinascente is a very convenient place to go to if you are looking for the big names in clothing, accessories, shoes, accessories and cosmetics. Lacoste, Swarovski, Tod’s are some of the brands you will find there. It’s also a great place for top of the line kid’s clothing.
Galleria Porta di Roma
You will find one of the biggest shopping malls of Rome, Galleria Porta di Roma, not too far away from the city center. With over 220 stores and restaurants, this is a shopper’s paradise. Of course, Galleria Porta di Roma does not have the charm of the smaller family boutiques of the city center, but you will find just about anything you want, from men’s and women’s clothing (H&M, Zara, Sandro Ferrone) to sporting goods and even IKEA!
Il Discount Dell’Alta Moda
If you don’t want to spend too much but still want to buy clothes and accessories from the most famous Italian and French designers, head out to Il Discount Dell’Alta Moda. They generally offer 50% discount on all their products, so it’s well worth it. Early winter sales if you will…
- Address: Via di Gesu e Maria, 16/A, 00187 Roma
- Metro station: Spagna
- Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, from 10:30AM to 7:30PM, Mondays from 2:30PM to 7:30PM. Closed on Sundays
- Website: http://discountdellaltamoda.com/
Campagna Amica Market
Campagna Amica Market is not to be missed if you are looking for food and edible gifts. From olive oil and wine to delicious pasta toppings such as preserved truffles or eggplants, these items will surely bring the taste of Italy home. And the best part is, all these items are local. A perfect place to head out to before Christmas to see what the Romans eat during the holiday season!
Food is not your “thing” and you prefer to stick with non-edible objects to please yourself or your loved ones? No problem: head out to Mercato Monti. This “urban market” is the place to find unique, handmade items like vintage clothing, decoration elements, jewelry and much more! And even if you don’t plan on buying anything (but chances are, you won’t leave empty handed), taking your children to see this market during Christmas is quite fun and entertaining.
5. What are the best family-friendly Christmas activities in Rome?
Rome is a very nice place, and also a very family-friendly destination. But just like any other city in the world, the family friendly things to do are sometimes hard to come by.
We, at Family Twist, have put all our efforts into designing high end tailor made activities for families that want to live an unforgettable bonding moment.
Our family-friendly activities in Rome are already highly recommended to make the most of your stay in Rome with kids, but for Christmas, we have developed 3 very special activities:
Enjoy the beauty of Rome’s iconic monuments and Christmas decorations through this 2 hour sightseeing tour, in the comfort of a private luxurious mini-van. Our local, fully experienced guide will tell you all about the things you will see, and make it highly entertaining and engaging for children, as well as for adults!
Plunge your hands in the dough and get your hands deliciously dirty while making your own Italian pizzas in different Christmas shapes and sizes! This is one activity you and your children will never forget.
In the heart of Rome lies a small, quaint mosaic workshop. There, with the help of an art teacher, you will learn the secrets of making a mosaic artwork. One thing is for sure: there is nothing better and more fulfilling than creating your own wonderful Christmas decorations when on a family holiday with your children in Rome!
6. What is the traditional Christmas food in Rome?
Food is a big deal in Italy, and during Christmas there are 2 special meals, generally eaten with all the members of the family.
First comes the dinner on Christmas Eve. On the night of December 24, the meal is mostly about fried vegetables and fish. While some will go for the traditional ‘fritto misto alla romana‘, comprised of fried zucchini, artichoke, broccoli and codfish, others might prefer something like the spaghetti with clams, eel or salmon. The Christmas Eve seven-dish seafood dinner is called La Vigilia and a lot of restaurants in Rome will serve that as a night’s special.
On the following day, Christmas day, come what is probably the most important meal of the holiday season: the Christmas lunch or “Pranzo di Natale”. Generally, the lunch starts with tortellini soup or stracciatella (the egg drop soup, not the ice cream!), which is then followed by a classic pasta dish. Enter the main dish, which traditionally consists of roast lamb with potatoes or chicken with tomatoes and sweet pepper.
Probably the most famous traditional Christmas food in Rome is Panettone. It is a light, airy cake with candied fruit and raisins. During the Holiday Season, you can’t miss it: you’ll find it virtually everywhere.
Quite similar to the Panettone is the Pandoro, which is also a light airy cake, but this time made with butter and sprinkled with sugar dust.
Another popular desert during the Christmas feasts is the Torrone, a type of nougat made with honey, sugar and a kind of nut (almond, pistachio, hazelnut are the most common. It can be either soft or hard, but the taste is quite the same.
And what happens after these 2 Christmas feasts? Another feast! This time, on New Year’s Day. The highlight of this dinner called Cotechino e Lenticchie is a sausage made with pork rind and spices, served with lentils. It is said to bring good luck for the coming months to all those who eat it!
7. Where are the best ice skating rinks for Christmas with kids in Rome?
Auditorium ice rink
There are a lot of things happening in Rome’s Auditorium (Parco della Musica). Not only does it host a number of Christmas themed events like a Christmas fair and concerts with music ranging from Italian pop to gospel, it is also one of the most popular public ice rinks in Rome.
- Address: Parco della Musica Auditorium, Viale Pietro De Coubertin, 00196 Rome
- Dates and Time: From December through very early February. From 10 am to midnight
- Price: € 8 per person, including ice skate rental.
The Castel Sant’Angelo is one of the symbols of Rome. The impressive circular fortress is almost 2000 years old and was built by the Roman emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. What was once the tallest building in Rome is now a museum, and during Christmas, a charming ice skating rink is set up right next to it.
- Address: Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Roma, Italy
- Dates and Time: From December through very early February. From 10 am to midnight
- Price: To be confirmed
Other notable ice rinks include Piazza Re Di Roma, Tor di Quinto and Villa Gordiani.
If you want us to help you create unforgettable memories with your family and turn your holidays into a fantastic event, contact us.